How do I form the conditional tense in German, and how do I construct an ‘if’ clause?

Conditional sentences indicate degrees of possibility, or the extent to which an event or action is likely to happen.  In English, this tense is used for talking about what you would do, if it were possible, for example: ‘If I were rich, I would buy a fast car.’ The action of buying a car depends on becoming rich – this is a conditional sentence.

The conditional is a compound tense in German. To form it, we always need the following three components, no matter which verb we use:

1. the subject pronoun: every sentence needs a subject. These are: (ich (I), du (you), er/sie/es/man (he/she/it/one), wir (we), ihr (you plural), Sie (you formal), sie (they):



2. the right form of würden, depending on which subject pronoun you use. Würden is the conditional form of the auxiliary verb ‘werden’ - we also use ‘werden’ when constructing other compound tenses such as the future tense.



(Other forms of werden in the conditional are:

ich/er/sie/es/man würde

du würdest

wir/sie/Sie würden

ihr würdet)


3. an infinitive (verb in its full form) to go at the end of the sentence:




= Ich würde gehen/I would go


What is an ‘if’ clause? How do I use one?

To make your conditional sentences longer, you can use ‘wenn’ (if) to create an “if clause”.

If I had time, I would go there.

When we use ‘wenn’, the form of ‘würden’ must go at the end of the clause, after the infinitive (in this case ‘haben’). In the second clause, we have to invert the subject and verb – this means that they swap places. The infinitive gehen remains at the end:

Wenn ich Zeit hätte (haben würde), würde ich dort gehen.

(We can change ‘haben würde’ to ‘hätte’ – this is a shortened conditional form of ‘haben’ and is more common)


A literal translation of this sentence in German is:

If I would have time, I would go there.


…but in English this doesn’t make much sense. The following translation would sound much more natural:

If I had time, I would go there.


In German, both parts of this sentence need to be in the conditional tense – using würden in both clauses.

Although a lot of ‘if’ clauses use the conditional tense, you can also use the present tense to indicate possibility. The present tense can be used in the first clause, followed by the future tense in the second clause:


If I have time, I will go shopping.

Wenn ich Geld habe, werde ich einkaufen gehen.


Again, wenn sends the verb ‘habe’ to the end of the clause.

In the second part of the sentence, inversion happens - the subject (ich) and the verb (werde) swap places, leaving us with werde ich… gehen. The infinitive stays at the end of the clause.

Many conjunctions do not change the word order in German (such as denn and aber), but wenn, along with other common conjunctions like dass, is a subordinating conjunction that does alter word order.


Grace B. A Level Spanish tutor, A Level German tutor, A Level French ...

2 years ago

Answered by Grace, an A Level German tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


Luthien  C. GCSE German tutor, A Level German tutor, GCSE English Lit...
View profile
£20 /hr

Luthien C.

Degree: Applied Human Rights (Masters) - York University

Subjects offered: German, History+ 1 more

English Literature

“About me: Hi! My name is Luthien and I am currently working towards a Masters degree in Applied Human Rights at the University of York. I have a Bachelors degree in History and German from the University of Durham (First Class Honours...”

Paul H. IB German tutor, GCSE German tutor, A Level German tutor, IB ...
View profile
£20 /hr

Paul H.

Degree: Spanish Literature (Doctorate) - Cambridge University

Subjects offered: German, Spanish+ 2 more

-Personal Statements-
-Oxbridge Preparation-

“Personal Description: I am a 25 year old PhD student in Spanish Literature at the University of Cambridge. I have a first class-degree in Spanish and German language and literature as well as an MPhil in Spanish literature which I com...”

MyTutor guarantee

Zoe W. GCSE French tutor, A Level French tutor, GCSE German tutor, A ...
View profile
£22 /hr

Zoe W.

Degree: French and German BA (Bachelors) - Bristol University

Subjects offered: German, History+ 3 more

English Literature

“About me:  I am a student at the University of Bristol studying French and German, although I also did History and Enlgish at A level and loved the subjects as well! I am very enthusiastic when it comes to these subjects and would lov...”

About the author

Grace B. A Level Spanish tutor, A Level German tutor, A Level French ...
View profile

Grace B.

Currently unavailable: for regular students

Degree: BA Modern Languages (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: German, Spanish+ 2 more

-Personal Statements-

“Enthusiastic languages student with previous tutoring experience, offering a flexible approach to different learning styles.”

You may also like...

Other A Level German questions

Was konnte man sich lange Zeit nicht vorstellen? Warum? [2 marks]

How do you use the passive voice in German?

Wenn du viel Geld hättest, was würdest du damit machen?

When do I need to use 'sein' as the auxiliary verb in the past perfect tense?

View A Level German tutors


We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss